bald2I’ve noticed something in the year and a half since my diagnosis with Stage IIIC cancer. People treat me differently. And I don’t just mean the way people reacted when they first learned I had cancer or saw my tell-tale bald head (a phenomenon I call “Cancer Face“). I mean the way those in my inner and outer circles still behave around me, even a year out of treatment.

There’s apparently a certain grace extended to those who were nearly lost that other, “luckier,” ones don’t receive. I guess almost dying and having an unknown prognosis gives you some sort of pass. Not that I receive perks or free stuff. I’m talking about gentleness of attitude, and mercy.

I have been experiencing an abundance of patience, and very little annoyance directed at me. For instance, if I’m late for something or need to reschedule, my lunch date will simply say, “No worries! Whenever you can make it is fine!”

Or if I happen to mess up, I’m inevitable told, “Hey, that’s okay… everyone makes mistakes!”

And at work, clients and colleagues are super-respectful of my schedule, in a manner I never experienced in my pre-cancer, workaholic days.

I am very close to my parents and have been most of my life (except for a couple of rebellious periods, which is a whole other column). My mother has always been a planner and an organizer, and my lackadaisical approach to scheduling and promptness was frustrating to her at times. Since my cancer, however, my mom has become incredibly laid back. Now when I call to say I’m going to be half an hour late, she says, “whenever you get here is totally fine”, and she means it. They’re just glad to see me, whenever they see me. After a few of these easygoing exchanges, I asked my husband. “Have you noticed how extraordinarily easy my parents are, about everything?”, I asked.

“They almost lost you,” he said. “Petty things don’t matter anymore.”

That’s when I realized that this “special” treatment was widespread. Everyone seemed kinder, gentler. Which caused me to wonder, is it me, or is it them?

I’ve noticed that I’m doing it too, easily extending grace and — even better — finding humor in situations that might have frustrated me in the past. I have more empathy for others. And the people or situations that are terminally toxic? I just remove myself altogether. Life is entirely too short for such nonsense.

So why don’t we treat everyone like this all of the time? We talk about not “sweating the small stuff” and “going with the flow,” but how many of us really practice this in our lives? How much energy do we burn agonizing and worrying about things we can’t control or that simply don’t matter in the big picture?

That’s not to say we should accept unacceptable or disrespectful behavior, but rather, why not ask ourselves “how important is it?” when confronted with an (historically) annoying situation.

I don’t know why any of us has to have a near death experience — or come close to losing a loved one — to chill the eff out, but I’ll take it. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, does it?

What if we all just lived our lives in more of a place of gratitude and generosity rather than angst and annoyance? What if we just slowed down a bit, breathed deeply once in awhile. There’s clearly something to this stopping and smelling the roses thing. It changes one’s entire mindset.

And none of knows how much time we have, do we? I want to treat every interaction with others as though it might be my last, from those in my immediate family to the barista at my favorite coffee shop. And that includes being more mindful about being prompt and courteous and respectful of others‘ time.

Not to say that my life now is nothing but rainbows and sunshine. Far from it. And I still want to be called on my bullshit. I don’t need to be treated with kid gloves, cancer or no. My husband doesn’t cut me any slack, and for that I am grateful. And last week my brother got peeved at me for not returning his call in a timely manner. “Thank goodness,” I said. “You’re not afraid to get mad at me anymore, I must be out of the woods.”

I guess it just comes down to mindfulness, respect of self and others, and picking not only our external battles, but our internal ones as well. Asking ourselves, how important is it, really? There is tremendous freedom in just letting go of the little things. And don’t think of it as giving someone a pass (although what would be so wrong with that?), but giving yourself one.

Now go tell someone you love how much they mean to you. Give a friendly wave to that crossing guard on the corner. And next time someone steps on your toe, smile and say, sincerely, “hey, no big deal!”

 Image via Brooke Kelly Photography.

Originally posted in Huffington Post Healthy Living.

5 Thoughts on “What if you treated everyone like they might die tomorrow?

  1. This too shall pass. It’s been almost 3 years for me and I was like that for quite a long time. I was trying to treat everyone as if they had just been diagnosed with cancer. Especially the ones who were being real assholes.

    It can be done, but what an effort. Life is too short! I am glad to report I am finally getting back to my normal “I hate everyone and everything” self and I couldn’t be happier. (And I don’t want to brag or anything but this attitude just comes effortlessly for me.)

  2. Hello, I am a volunteer at the American Cancer Society and I just wanted to share that we are hosting a FREE summer day camp, Camp Summersault, in Long Beach, California from August 5-9, 2013. This camp is for children from ages 5-13 who are survivors or being treated for cancer and their siblings. Activities will include arts & crafts, jewelry making, campfire cooking, challenge course, music, archery, petting zoo, horseback riding, and much, much more. For more information, feel free to contact Rosa Kelson at (562)437-0791, ext 224, and all families are welcome to come partake in these festivities. It will be a lot of fun! 🙂

  3. Sandra Baker on September 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm said:

    Joanna, I left a comment on the march 8 post, because I dont really know how to negotiate blogs. I do research, but not blogs.
    At the risk of wearing out my welcome, I have some other comments, because during my quick scan of the blog I saw nothing about diet.
    Take your own control of your body. I went through the basic chemo for ovarian cancer, just like yours. (yes, this is a very aggressive, very dangerous protocol). Then I asked my oncologist this: “This chemo had the potential to kill any cancer left, and if so, I would probably live a full life with it not coming back right?” Answer: Yes. My next question was this: “If any cancer was left, can the next set of chemo you do kill it all?” Answer: “No.”
    What I took away from that conversation is that after the first set of chemo, any more is to extend your life as much as possible, but you will die of the cancer. The only problem is that chemo is so toxic that periodically you would be very sick from then on. The next problem is they are not so good at long term extensions.
    My answer to all this was that I rejected the chemical way and decided to research a way to take control my own body. You see, our body can heal itself, yes really, and we need to learn how.
    I had the advantage that I had lived an organic vegetarian natural foods diet since 1970, and at 72 was extremely healthy. I had a weak link, but my body generally is tremendously healthy. A plus for getting back on my feet immediately with no chemo fatigue etc.
    I already knew of somebody who had done the Gerson Therapy, and with more research I chose that. (it is a diet, and a whole bunch more–a medical protocol without chemicals. You are watch carefully with blood tests etc). No cheating. stay on the protocol.
    But there is not one answer. You need to find out how the body works. It really does not want to have cancer. It is all chemical. Help it to change its PH from acidic to alkaline (research the “Alkaline Diet” to begin). This is only a beginning, but begin now. Stop the meat and dairy first.
    Research diet therapies: Gerson, Dr Gonzalez are two well known. A particular diet, like the alkaline diet for example is good to start with, but it is not a “therapy.” It doesn’t have enough power when you already have cancer, although David Servan-Schreiber lived 20 productive years with a deadly brain cancer.
    ( has lots of info without giving opinions).
    Research HOW coffee enemas are the best way to detox the liver without buying into the joke–“cream or sugar?”
    Research hypothermia. Robert Gorter “Fighting Cancer.” Heat kills cancer done right.
    Read “Anti Cancer: A new Way of life” David Servan lived 20 years with a deadly brain cancer that usually kills very soon.
    Ralph W. Moss is a researcher of natural cancer treatments.
    Read Kindle book: “Death By Modern Medicine” Carolyn Dean.
    Continue researching about the Cancer industry, how if your oncologist recommended a diet therapy, she would lose her whole practice piece by piece. You see, the medical industry uses the outdated double blind study. You can research a chemical in grapes that way, and determine that it helps prevent cancer, but you cannot research a whole metabolism with its millions of chemical reaction that way. So diet? Cant prove it with their methods, so it is quackery using their thinking.
    Research, and dont stop. If my cancer comes back, at least I will feel good during the last days, months or years, and not deathly ill with deadly chemicals in my body preventing it healing or repair, or repression.
    The truth is, the medical industry shot their wad with your first chemo, and the rest is bandaids to a deadly disease. Now it is time to give your body the tools to heal itself.

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